33rd NORTHWEST FILM & VIDEO FESTIVAL
Films screen at Cinema 21, the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, and (next week) the Clinton St. Theater. For more info, see Film on pg. 51 and Movie Times on pg. 55.
APART FROM THAT
What do you get when you put an unbalanced hairdresser, a grieving Native American, and an exhibitionist old lady together? It has all the makings of a fine bar joke, but Apart from That is a real snoozer that goes nowhere fast. Filmed in shaky digital video, this film thinks it's arty to the max—when it's really just Miranda July with a case of Parkinson's. (Courtney Ferguson)
During the Vietnam War, over half a million tons of bombs were airdropped on Cambodia alone. Thousands of bombs, both detonated and not, litter the Cambodian landscape, and a micro-economy has developed, wherein poor villagers hunt out the bombs and sell them for scrap metal. Watching kids hammer on live missiles, or adults drag elephantine bombs out of hand-dug holes, is nerve-wracking, and the larger issue of the detritus that we leave in the wake of destruction is chilling—but this still feels more like a good OPB special than something I'd rush to the theaters to see. (Chas Bowie)
CLEAR CUT: THE STORY OF PHILOMATH, OREGON
In a nearly unprecedented feat of generosity, logging tycoon Rex Clemens set up the Clemens Foundation in 1959, which ensured that every (yes, every) high school graduate from his hometown of Philomath, OR, would have their college tuition paid for. Director Peter Richardson's elegant, balanced documentary, Clear Cut, is about those now in charge of the Clemens Foundation—a group of Bible-thumping bigots, who waged war in the late '80s against a liberal, "politically correct" school superintendent, threatening to pull the scholarships if he wasn't fired. (Justin W. Sanders)
THE HEART OF THE GAME
The Roosevelt Roughriders—a Seattle high school girls' basketball team—spent seven years under quirky new coach Bill Resler, trying to win the state championship. They faced plenty of adversity along the way: a tough cross-town rival, crushing first round losses in the championship tournament, and a state interscholastic association that tried to bar the team's star player from rejoining the team after she skipped a year of school to have a baby. A sports documentary that bears a striking resemblance to Hoop Dreams, The Heart of the Game is amazing, thanks to the obvious dedication of Resler and the kickass young women he inspired. (Amy Jenniges)
IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS
A Sundance darling, Iraq in Fragments is a documentary wholly unlike the spate of Iraq documentaries that are piling up like so many war casualties. Instead of hyping up Bush's incompetent handling of the war with ham-fisted narration, Seattle filmmaker James Longley spent years getting to know his subjects, enabling him to tell very personal, intimate stories of Iraqis in distinct situations. The result is a powerful film that presents the effects of the US invasion on Iraqis in a way that makes all other attempts irrelevant. (Scott Moore)
In 1997, after a decade of running around with the Kerby Block Crips, Anthony Branch—AKA Lil Smurf—was shot to death in the parking lot of a Northeast Portland strip club. Branch was just 20 years old, but he'd already earned a reputation as Portland's most notorious gang member. This fascinating and sad documentary tells Lil Smurf's story, relying on police reports and interviews with his family, friends, and the cops who were always on his tail. Along the way, the film also tells the story of North and Northeast Portland's history—a story that's at risk of being lost as gentrification grips Portland. (Amy Jenniges)
READING BETWEEN THE LINES
A free screening of a film from Jefferson High students—one that examines "the public's misconceptions of their struggling inner city campus." Not screened for press.
Even the best musicals are pretty fucking obnoxious—and this is especially true if they're about DNA research. The Score tells of Dr. Magnusson and her team of scientists who are hurrying to isolate a cancer-causing gene before a rival lab. If it weren't for the film's multiple and insane non sequiturs, I probably would have sat through this 84 minutes wishing I had cancer—a fate slightly less painful than watching a dance number in the lab transition into an introspective moment when the full moon slowly fades into the pink "positive" dot of a pregnancy test. (Erin LaCour)
WALKING TO WERNER
Inspired by Werner Herzog's legendary walk from Munich to Paris in 1974 to see his dying friend Lotte Eisner, filmmaker Linas Phillips undertakes a journey from Seattle to Los Angeles, seeking to meet Herzog himself. While the film's concept piques interest, Phillips is just too annoying for words (and I pride myself on having words for everything). Walking to Werner is not void of redemption: The torn-from-real-life cameos of various roadside people are pretty excellent, Herzog's actual brush-off voicemail raises a smile, and Phillips' own mettle actually passes muster. Given a less sycophantic premise and far less face time, Phillips may recover from this tactile embarrassment and go on to produce something less excruciating. (Lance Chess)
WHO IS BOZO TEXINO?
For Who Is Bozo Texino?, Portland's veteran experimental filmmaker, Bill Daniel, spent years riding freight trains with his Super-8 camera, studying the hobo graffiti on the side of the cars. Of the hundreds of signature tags, "Bozo Texino" was the most ubiquitous of them all. Interviewing hobos, train inspectors, and railway men, Daniel crosses fields and rivers on flatbed cars in search of the elusive tagger in this lush, gritty black-and-white film. (Chas Bowie)
Local Nick Peterson's Ernst Lubitsch tribute is the story of a Portland couple that want nothing more than to throw each other down and FUH-UH-UCK 'til the wheels fall off. But they don't. They keep it chaste. They keep it pure(itanical.) Off on the wrong foot, their relationship goes stale and the film rolls forward with a deadpanned apathy that works well for the characters but left me cold. In contrast to Lubitsch's films, which were loud, funny, and passionate, yellow is kind of colorless. (Adam Gnade)
See review this issue.
Al Franken: God Spoke
See review this issue.
See review this issue.
Behind the Mask
Those vegan vigilantes in the Animal Liberation Front "unveil their individual struggles for animal liberation." Sigh.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Probably one of the funniest movies you're going to see—this month, this year, maybe ever. The premise (for the two of you who've somehow avoided the omnipresent Borat appearances on MTV, SNL, Good Morning America, HBO, CNN, MySpace, and YouTube), is that Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen), an intrepid and ignorant reporter from Kazakhstan, ventures to America. Ostensibly assembling an educational film to send back home, Borat drives across the country, along the way encountering creepy Christian fundamentalists, haughty Southern bluebloods, red-state cowboys, friendly prostitutes, and terrifying Jews. (Erik Henriksen)
See review this issue.
It's hard to not like Mora Stephens' little story, in which star-crossed lovers—one Republican, one Democrat—meet at the GOP convention in August 2004 and have a weeklong fling. The story is familiar (Romeo and Juliet, but nobody dies), and Stephens does a nice job mixing in footage from the convention and surrounding protests. Unfortunately, the film gets way too bogged down with extended montage shots that kill the story's momentum. And ultimately, the movie is derailed by a "surprise twist ending," which has more in common with Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men than the 90 minutes of film that precedes it. Without giving too much away, it's a ham-fisted way of proving that all Republicans—even the kind, open-minded, gentlemanly ones who are hot in the sack—are royal assholes. (Scott Moore)
Deliver Us From Evil
See review this issue.
Simply put: Driving Lessons is pretty much Harold and Maude, but without the fucking. Sure, it's a lazy comparison, but I feel okay about it, since Driving Lessons is a pretty lazy movie. (Alison Hallett)
The latest from Aardman Animations, the great stop-motion studio behind last year's brilliant Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. This time around, the British Aardman's teamed up with DreamWorks, they of the execrable Shrek films, for the CG Flushed Away. The characters and premise are likeable and fun, and the voice cast is exemplary, but Flushed Away squanders most of that—while there's Aardman wit here, there's also lazy, DreamWorks-esque writing; for every joke that zings, more thud or flop. (Erik Henriksen)
For the Love of Dolly
In Christopher Guest's new comedy, For the Love of Dolly, he follows around the biggest Dolly Parton fans in America: a retarded young man, two women who are best friends, and a gay couple (complete with flashy, matching sequined suits). But wait—this isn't a Christopher Guest comedy! This is a real documentary about real people. So, instead of laughing at these people and feeling okay about it, I laughed at them and then felt kind of bad. Then I felt extremely weirded out by their serious, over-the-top, borderline psychotic obsession with Miss Parton. Then I laughed again, because I'm a dick. (Christine S. Blystone)
A Good Year
Ridley Scott departs his native terrain of manly action-adventure epics and plunges into the viticultural riches of Provence, dragging home the most shamelessly silly movie about grapes ever made. But shamelessness is just exuberance seen through cynical eyes. Russell Crowe plays a heartless London stockbroker whose uncle dies—leaving him a tempting French estate full of memories, casks of noxious wine, and plentiful joie de vivre. Also, a hot local girl (Marion Cotillard, seriously hot). Also, a hot Californian girl (Abbie Cornish, California hot), who claims to be a cousin and may be the rightful heir to the estate. You know how the movie ends before it rightly begins, but check out the cast along the way: Tom Hollander (as a dry little Londoner), Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi (my favorite ubiquitous French actress, underused here as a lawyer), and in flashbacks, Albert Finney (the boisterous, dearly departed uncle) and Freddie Highmore (a child actor with massive and wholly unearned quantities of charisma). Plus, a number of frankly admiring shots of cute butts in miniskirts. Hey, it's France—you're allowed to stare. (Annie Wagner)
See review this issue.
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
Thorough, harrowing, and very well done, Jonestown doesn't cut corners in its retelling of the history of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, the infamous cult that tragically ended with nearly 1,000 members of its community dead after drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. For the many of us who were too young to remember (or to have even been alive during) the events, we often associate the line "don't drink the Kool-Aid" with images of brainwashed drones sucking down poison with their eyes toward heaven. But what Jonestown reveals is a scenario much more disturbing, effectively and vividly demonstrating how so many reasonable people could be drawn into what they thought was a utopia—and how things slowly went very wrong. (Marjorie Skinner)
Musical Brotherhoods from the Trans-Saharan Highway & Sumatran Folk Cinema
Released in conjunction with the absolutely outstanding Sublime Frequencies record label, Sumatran Folk Cinema is exactly what it sounds like—a journey into Sumatran folk music. It runs from ornate and dead serious to full on porch hoedowns. If you're at all a fan of weird, fucked up, trippy music, get on this fast. (Adam Gnade)
Christian Bale plays Alfred Borden, who, along with Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) aims to become the top illusionist in Victorian London. Christopher Nolan's film gets clunky at times, and it's overlong, but Nolan knows what he's doing, and by the final act, the film's immensely entertaining narrative tumbles, rather impressively, into place. (Erik Henriksen)
In this exploration of the queen's apparently heartless reaction during the week following Princess Diana's death in 1997, Mirren plays Her Royal Highness, Elizabeth II, with just enough respect without fawning the role to pieces. And she's surprisingly sexy. God save the queen! (Matt Davis, who is British)
Sarah Michelle Gellar shows up in another crappy PG-13 horror movie. Not screened for critics, but watch for our film short next week. Poor Buffy.
Rolling Deep: Skateboarding Films 1965-1980
Vinatage, short, 16mm skateboarding films—featuring Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, and some other dudes you've never heard of.
Running with Scissors
In his 2002 memoir Running with Scissors, Augusten Burroughs chronicled his wildly fucked-up childhood living in the home of his pillhead mother's shrink. Running is content to rest on its "Aren't these characters ka-razy?" premise, and director Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck) can't decide whether to play it for high drama, sheer slapstick, or as an extended music video for his AM Gold eight-track collection. (Chas Bowie)
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Jesus goddamn Christ, it's another Tim Allen shitfest. And as if Tim Allen wasn't bad enough, here he co-stars with that goddamn Martin Short. Here's how eagerly we're anticipating SC3: "I would rather eat my own legs than watch those fucking coke-snuffles pie-wits in The Santa Clause 3." (Adam Gnade) "I would rather throw my puppy into a wood chipper than watch those washed-up old fucks in The Santa Clause 3." (Amy Jenniges) "I would rather punch myself in the vagina than see those dipshits suck each other off in The Santa Clause 3." (Christine S. Blystone) "I would rather have sex with Salma Hayek than watch the new Tim Allen movie." (Chas Bowie)
The obvious advantage to John Cameron Mitchell's film is that many people will see it, and continue to talk about it, because of the sex. Frustrated by what he interpreted as a "lack of respect" toward sex in American cinema, Mitchell has filmed graphic, well-lit, actual sex scenes, but avoided creating pornography. But even at its warmest, Shortbus is oddly standoffish—just as its take on sex is to think about it too hard, paralyzing it from the waist down. (Marjorie Skinner)
Stranger Than Fiction
See review this issue.
The US vs. John Lennon
The problem with The US vs. John Lennon is that there's hardly a movie here; it's more a portrait of Lennon's activist leanings. And it doesn't help that there's already a powerful documentary portrait of the best Beatle on video store shelves—it's called Imagine, and it's a much better film than this one. (Chas Bowie)