* African Film Fest: Portland Community College
PCC's film fest continues. On Thursday, Feb. 14, Andanggaman will be screening, about a 17th Century black man whose banishment spares him from enslavement or death. His family is captured, taken to cruel King Andanggaman's, and he follows in an attempt to rescue them. Faat Kine takes an interest in the empowerment of African women, showing a self-sufficient heroine who runs her own gas station, much to the chagrin of local men. Finally, Our Friends at the Bank will screen, about the influence of the World Bank on contemporary Uganda. Playing the 21st is Dakan/Destiny, about the struggle of gay men in Africa; Endurance, set in Ethiopia, about the life of the great long distance runner Haile Gebrselasie, who broke a world record for 10,000 meters in the 1996 Olympics; and Out in Africa, a documentary about being gay in Africa.

A Beautiful Mind
In the case of John Nash (Russell Crowe), the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who suffered from schizophrenia, it is ironic that a man of quantitative genius could lose all control of quantitative reality. With a deft directorial touch, the paradox of Nash's world could really come to life. But that would take more of a talent than Ron Howard, whose interest is to make an uplifting movie, and to provide an easily digestible tale of overcoming adversity--as if insanity was something you just get through, like a bad hair day. (Michael Shilling)

Big Fat Liar
Kid writes essay. Big fat movie exec steals it for a movie. Kid takes revenge. Even the presence of the great Paul Giammati (in the title role) can't excuse this pile of poo.

* Birthday Girl
Nicole Kidman stars as Nadia, a Russian mail-order bride commissioned by Limey banker, John. Problems ensue, however, when John discovers Nadia doesn't speak a lick of English. But, just when he's about to ship her back to the motherland, a well-timed handjob convinces him otherwise. Slowly, thanks to Nadia's proclivity for the sexual arts, John becomes infatuated, and all is well--that is, until two of her Russian pals show up unannounced. Turns out they have not-so-nice plans to hold Nadia for ransom, forcing John to steal money from his own bank. The question then presents itself: What is John willing to do for love? I'm only going to give this film a solid, rather than enthusiastic, recommendation, because of the emotional distance between the actors and audience. Regardless, if you're in the mood for a thinking-person's rom-com, Birthday Girl provides a rarely seen view of romance: down and definitely dirty. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)

Black Hawk Down
This controversial war film is the new effort from Ridley Scott, an artist who has made a career out of not saying a damn thing, ever, except, "Look how pretty this shiny sidewalk is." The movie tells the story of the ill-fated 1993 American military intervention in Mogadishu, Somalia, and makes a point of offering no context, political or social, for the conflict. Hell, network news coverage could've done that! (Sean Nelson)

Brotherhood of the Wolf
It's not just that the plot (about a superwolf laying waste to the French countryside in the 1700s and a scientist with amazing fighting prowess sent to track it down) grows less and less sensible; not just that the lead actor is a second-rate Christopher Lambert; not just that the sex scenes are lurid and yet untitillating; not just that everyone (including a transplanted Iroquois and scuzzy French mercenaries) knows kung fu--Brotherhood of the Wolf is all of this and more, a special French fusion of the pretentious and the inane. Were it not so long, this would be camp fun. But it is long. So very long. So very, very, very long. (Bret Fetzer)

Business of Strangers
Stockard "Stockyard" Channing and Julia Stiles star in this reverse gender, corporate revenge drama, cut from the same cloth as In the Company of Men. Though Channing's performance is excellent, the filmmaker's desire to lay bare a female variant on the archetypal male fantasy seems to expose something intrinsically male, nonetheless. (Sean Nelson)

* Charlotte Gray
Just when you thought Cate Blanchett couldn't get any sexier, she goes and joins the French Resistance! Blanchett plays Charlotte as a willing naif, whose participation in the war effort arises out of her simple desire to do good, and the less noble desire to be reunited with her soldier lover lost behind enemy lines. Because she speaks fluent French, she's recruited (by some guy she happens to sit next to on a train) into the British SOE spy ring. Of course, Charlotte soon becomes the traditional ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances--and frankly, a bit of a saint--but director Gillian Armstrong is too much of a sensualist to let the proceedings become conventional. (Sean Nelson)

Collateral Damage
This isn't your father's Arnold Schwarzeneger-kills-all-the-terrorists movie. This one is all sensitive.

* Count of Monte Cristo
Kevin Reynolds' rendition of The Count of Monte Cristo is a zippy little piece of entertainment masquerading as a mini-epic. Of course, Alexandre Dumas' timeless potboiler does most of the work here; the story of a virtuous man betrayed by his best friend, consigned to an island prison, delivered by fate, and resolved to revenge, remains one of the great pulp yarns of all time. What Reynolds (The Beast, Waterworld, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves... yeesh!) brings to the table is a knack for big action, and more importantly, a facility with the shorthand of male intimacy.

* Dracula Sucks
See Review this issue.

Eban And Charley
Despite its flaws (and they are legion), Eban and Charley manages the rare virtue of exposing us to real kids who navigate fairly real problems. Sunshine loves Kevin, but her parents don't like him because he's deaf and Native American. Underage, they run away, leaving their pal Charley to figure out his own growing affection for Eban. Over a melancholy Christmas holiday in Seaside, OR (the film was shot there, in Portland, and in Astoria for less than $40,000, all of it raised by Portland producer Chris Monlux), the two fall in love and then try to deal with it.

Elements of image
See Review this issue.

Gosford Park
Robert Altman's latest is an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery set in the posh environs of a late 19th-Century English mansion, where the swells and scousers surmount class boundaries to answer the question "Whodunnit?" Recent Altman work (that's Short Cuts onward, inclusive) has declined in sharp, inverse proportion to his ability to attract big-name movie stars--aka the Woody Allen syndrome--but this one is a lot better than the last few howling dogs he has unleashed.

Hart's War
It wasn't until the court martial scene that I realized how stupid this otherwise attractive, thoroughly modernist WWII flick is. When a black officer is accused of killing a white soldier (they're both in a POW camp) to avenge the death of the only other Tuskeegee airman in the camp, a lying witness is asked if he'd ever made an idle threat before. The response is "Yeah... but I'm not colored. I can control myself." Objection overruled. Elsewhere, this visually energetic picture is encumbered mostly by a lack of focus. Bruce Willis phones in a stiff performance as the complicated colonel, and everyone else is just OK. The whole thing, while not terrible, is a bit more Hogan's Heroes than Stalag 17, I'm afraid. (Sean Nelson)

I am Sam
I Am Sam is a truly awful title for only a marginally awful movie, which is to say that despite the poor moniker, this latest Hollywood take on the retarded is not a complete disaster. There are two reasons for this: a) Sean Penn is Sean Penn, even when he's playing (and often failing to play) a man with the intelligence of a 7-year-old, and b) Dakota Fanning, perhaps the most adorable girl ever burned onto celluloid.

* In the Bedroom
This langorous, beautifully acted film about erotic and familial entanglements in a small Maine fishing town one summer builds up to three moments of utter emotional brutality so severe that the long moments in between them thrum like high-tension wires. A college boy (Nick Stahl; never liked him before, but he's great here) having a fling with a townie single mother (Marisa Tomei, back from the dead and in excellent form), the boy's parents (Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson, who carry the picture with a realistic melancholy gravitas), and the mistress' ex-husband (William Mapother, who is related to Tom Cruise, but a fine actor nonetheless; he recalls Eric Roberts in Star 80, the creepiest creep in movie history) form the locus of Todd Field's insidiously gripping adaptation of Andre Dubus' deeply moral short story. (Sean Nelson)

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
This digital claymation for the under-10 set concerns a young man who likes to invent things like rocket-powered toothbrushes and what not, but whom everyone thinks is a dork. Until the aliens invade, that is. Then, come the wet-ass hour, he's everybody's fucking daddy. Well fuck you, world! FUCK YOU!

John Q
John Q is a problem film. Not in the race conflict sense, but in the class warfare sense. The movie represents Hollywood's first attempt to address the failure of the healthcare system. Denzel Washington plays the American worker, and Anne Heche plays Enron. Enron in this instance takes the form of a healthcare corporation, with its expensive drugs and operations, and its affluent doctors and administrators. The film, of course, is timely. The layoffs and deepening recession in the real world are expressed by the part-time factory worker's frustration with the system. Though I agree with John Q's politics, it's dull and tendentious. (Charles Mudede)

* Kandahar
Kandahar tells the story of Nafas, a female Afghan expatriate, now living in Canada and working as a journalist. Her sister is still trapped in the title city, maimed by a land mine and unable to tolerate the subhuman conditions for women, which are enforced under Taliban rule. When the sister writes of her intention to commit suicide, Nafas decides to return to Kandahar and intervene. The beauty of this film is confusing, even sinister, because of the mplicit suffering that it generates, but painfully worth seeing. (Sean Nelson)

Lantana
A lantana is a pretty pink flower. Lantana the film is a bud that never blooms. The long, slow film opens with a dead body and ends with a couple dancing, and in between are 120 minutes of middle-aged people living miserably. There is a story, sure--something about infidelity and a possible murder--but the bulk of the film is made up of pure misery, both for the characters and the audience. Then again, Australia is a former penal colony, so perhaps such punishment should be expected. (Bradley Steinbacher)

* Lord of the Rings
Remarkably true to the epic book by J.R.R. Tolkien. Though enhanced by computer animation, and certainly made in the post-Xena/Beastmaster era, this first installment promises to launch Lord of the Rings into the Star Wars strata. In a way, it's like playing the Final Fantasy VII role-playing game, only you probably already know the story and you don't have any controllers. And Sean Astin is in it. Aside from the early-on, too-fast editing that slows down as the movie unfolds, there's only one really cheesy part, graphics-wise. You are now an adventure dork. Make plans to see it twice. (Julianne Shepherd)

Monster's Ball
Monstrous Balls is more like it. Hank is a racist prison guard (Thornton, perfect), son of a retired racist prison guard (Peter Boyle, who doesn't even try an accent), and father of a young, non-racist prison guard (Heath Ledger, who tries his hardest) in a Georgia State Penitentiary death row. Hank falls into a desperate affair with Leticia (Halle Berry, semi-plausible), a black woman, after both of their sons die. Also, Hank executed her husband (Sean Combs, Puffy). Hank's dad says "nigger" and "porch monkey," and Hank fires a shotgun at some black kids, so we know that the film is about breaking the cycle of bigotry. A few nice notes are struck, but too many coincidences motorize this melodrama; its morality is tinny and safe. Via their affair, Hank is cured of racism, and Leticia is cured of grief. She even gets a truck! "I thank we're gone be all right," Hank says at the end. I thank I'm gone puke. (Sean Nelson)

Mothman Prophecies
In this story based on true events (ooh creeeepy), Richard Gere plays John Klein, a Washington Post reporter whose loving wife succumbs to a brain tumor. However, before perishing, she alone sees something strange in her room. Could it be... MOTHMAN? Two years pass, and Klein finds himself in Point Pleasant, West Virginia--a town whose chain is being jerked by--you guessed it, MOTHMAN! Klein discovers that... MOTHMAN is calling up people on the phone late at night, making predictions, peeking through windows, disguising himself as Richard Gere, and walking around asking stupid questions. Further investigations reveal that this MOTHMAN thingy shows up all over the world, whenever there's about to be a major catastrophe, but here's the funny thing! MOTHMAN doesn't come right out and simply say there's going to be a catastrophe! HA! HA! Noooo, he just drops incoherent hints about the impending catastrophe, making it impossible for anyone to prevent it! HA! HAAAA! (Wm. Steven Humphrey)

Mulholland Drive
This new work from David Lynch is confounding and bizarre (for a change). Originally conceived as a network TV pilot, Drive takes a long time establishing its characters(an aspiring actress, a glamorous amnesiac, a luckless Hollywood producer, and a mysterious gang of Mafiosi who are dead set on making sure a certain woman gets a certain part).

Nightmare Alley
Edmund Goulding's dark tale examines the trials and tribulations of a desperate carnie (Tyrone Power) faced with the challenges of surviving in a seedy business. Based on the pulp novel by William Gresham.

Rollerball
Norman Jewison's 1975 Rollerball is little more than an anti-corporate relic, hysterically bad outside of the rink, tremendously exciting inside the rink. John McTiernan's 2002 Rollerball is horrendously bad both in and out of the rink, which means, yes, it's a colossal piece of shit--perhaps the worst film you will see this year (though it's only February). Starring Chris Klein, LL Cool J, and Rebecca Romain-Stamos, the neo-Rollerball has absolutely nothing to offer other than blurred, confusing images, inane dialogue, and numerous cameos by pop diva Pink. Oh, and there's a street luge race. Whoopee! (Bradley Steinbacher)

* Royal Tennenbaums
This movie is great, go see it. A family of geniuses reunite from their seperate, but equally fucked up lives. Once they get under the same roof, their individual and combined issues resurface--and they do their best to work them out. Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson are amazing, the story is depressing with moments of hilarity, and the pace of the film is similar to Rushmore--slow moving, but worth every minute. (Katie Shimer)

Slackers
The latest effort in the horny teen prankster genre is horrific as the rest, chock full of jocose obscenity and people falling down. Dave, Sam, and Jeff are a trio of stoner dweebs who define themselves by cheating their way through college. The ringleader, Dave (Devon Sawa), crosses the campus spaz, Ethan (Jason Schwartzman from Rushmore--in a semi-Caesar cut and a Hawai'ian shirt) by jacking his seat in physics class. Ethan, in turn, finds evidence that Dave and his cronies are cheaters, and so he blackmails the gang into using their clout to hook him up with this hot chick, Angela (James King). I had high hopes for Schwartzman, who really is a great actor, but follows the script and therefore, quashes any glimmer of entertainment value.

* Storytelling
The latest jaded drama by Todd Solondz, genius writer/director of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness. Two shorter films, Fiction and Nonfiction, make up the whole. The first is about a college female who is desperately trying to cling to some ideal or person, but really, is completely lost. The second film is about a loser who wants to make a documentary about high school, but because he's too lame to do a good job, ends up exploiting his subjects. Another quest into the corruption and absurdity of humanity. (Katie Shimer)

To Live
A couple in China in the '40s splits up because of the husband's compulsive gambling. When he loses everything, he becomes a puppeteer and his wife returns.

Vanilla Sky
Tom Cruise plays David Aames, a hotshot 33-year-old who inherited a publishing company from his pop and has the world by the nuts. David skitters through life refusing to accept any real responsibility--especially when it comes to his casual lover, Julie (Cameron Diaz). However, when he meets the cute-as-a-bug Sofia (Penelope Cruz), he gets his first glimpse at the possibility of true love, which drives the jealous Julie bonkers. (Wm. Steven Humphrey)

A Walk to Remember
A long-standing complaint of the religious right has been the lack of wholesome, family-oriented (i.e., good Christian) entertainment available to the average, wholesome (good Christian) American. But what Michael Medved and his ilk seem to misunderstand is the simple fact that wholesome, good Christian entertainment is consistently, irredeemably lame. Case in point: A Walk to Remember, an unforgivably sappy teen romance starring Mandy Moore as a Christian girl who, through her kindness and faith, saves a troubled local hottie (Shane West) from the path of sin and ruin. As a film, AWTR barely passes muster above your average afterschool special, and as family-oriented fare it makes the horrendous mistake of assuming the average 13-year-old is a complete dolt. (Bradley Steinbacher)